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5 San Diego Padres After heavy losses the league champs face a fate sadder than a Garth Brooks ballad

After watching Garth Brooks strike out on five pitches in his
first intrasquad scrimmage, it was obvious that the country
music superstar, who had a spring-training tryout with defending
National League champion San Diego, would contribute little to
the club as a pigeon-toed leftfielder. But if the Padres are in
need of a theme song for the 1999 season, Brooks is definitely
their man.

Some lines from Shameless, Brooks's 1991 hit--"I'm shameless, I
don't have the power now, I don't want it anyhow, So I got to
let it go"--aptly describe the team's off-season moves following
its World Series sweep at the hands of the Yankees. After
coaxing San Diego voters to back a referendum for a new stadium
by implying that they would keep the team competitive, the
Padres turned into the Marlins West, trading away or failing to
sign many of the players instrumental in the franchise's second
pennant-winning season in its 30-year history.

"Things go in cycles in our organization," says rightfielder
Tony Gwynn, who's starting his 18th season in San Diego. "We're
competitive for three or four years, and then we go through a
reshaping. The way it looks now, it might take awhile before
we're competitive again. We're still the National League champs.
We'll just have to defend that title as best we can."

No mean feat considering they've lost leftfielder Greg Vaughn
(50 home runs, 119 RBIs) and utilityman Mark Sweeney, who were
traded to the Reds for leftfielder Reggie Sanders, backup
infielder Damian Jackson and righthanded pitching prospect Josh
Harris; ace Kevin Brown, a free agent who signed the biggest
contract in baseball history--with the Dodgers; centerfielder
Steve Finley, a free agent who moved on to the Diamondbacks;
third baseman Ken Caminiti, a free agent who badly wanted to
return to Houston; and righthander Joey Hamilton, who was traded
to the Blue Jays for pitchers Woody Williams and Carlos Almanzar.

"I miss Sweeney and Vaughn," says Gwynn, who's just 72 hits shy
of 3,000. "The free-agent stuff was understandable, but the
trades really surprised me. How do you ship a guy who hit 50
home runs? We're going to miss all of those guys, but in the
long run we're going to miss Sweeney and Vaughn the most. They
were the heart of our clubhouse."

The bullpen is the one part of the team that's still intact.
Last year San Diego's relievers led the majors with 31 wins and
59 saves. Best of all, since July 24, 1996, the Padres have won
174 straight games when leading after eight innings. Expect more
of the same this season. Closer Trevor Hoffman, who became the
richest reliever in history when he signed a four-year, $32
million contract on March 8, saved a league-record 53 games last
year and was the runner-up in National League Cy Young
balloting--even though he received more first-place votes than
winner Tom Glavine of the Braves. Setting up Hoffman will be
reliable righthanders Dan Miceli (10 wins, the most by a
National League reliever, and a home ERA of 1.96) and Brian
Boehringer (2.39 ERA, only 16 hits allowed in 26 innings after
Aug. 1) and veteran lefty Randy Myers (347 career saves, fifth
on the alltime list).

Moving up in the starting rotation are righthander Andy Ashby
and lefty Sterling Hitchcock, a split-finger specialist who went
3-0 and struck out 25 in 16 innings of the National League
playoffs. Righthanded hitter Ruben Rivera, who batted .133
against righties last year, takes over in center. George Arias,
who has yet to play a full season in the majors, gets first
crack at replacing Caminiti. Just a tad nervous about the
upcoming season, Arias rang up Caminiti for advice. "He said
people in San Diego have to turn the page," says Arias. "That's
what we have to do. It's my turn now, and I'm ready."

Replacing Vaughn in left is the speedy but oft-injured Sanders.
He'll bat second behind second baseman Quilvio Veras, who had an
on-base percentage of .398 at the All-Star break last year
before he was hampered by injuries to both shoulders. "Veras is
one of the best-kept secrets in the National League," says
manager Bruce Bochy.

Veras and Sanders will be followed in the order by Gwynn and
first baseman Wally Joyner--the two best hitters in the league
with runners in scoring position over the last five seasons. The
Padres will try to score early, keep the games close and let
Hoffman (0.49 ERA in save situations in '98) work his magic.

One more thing: Gwynn, 38, and Joyner, 36, have to stay healthy.
Last year nagging injuries kept them from playing together in 30
straight games from Aug. 12 through Sept. 13, during which San
Diego lost 14 times. "This year may be tough on everyone," says
Gwynn. "People will want our new guys to match the numbers of
the players they replaced, and they'll want the rest of us to
play as well as we did last year. That's a lot to ask."

A more likely scenario is that the Padres will plummet from
first to last in their division, just as they did following the
1996 season. That kind of collapse might merit another
diversionary visit from Brooks, who will, at that point, truly
have Friends in Low Places.


COLOR PHOTO: MICHAEL ZITO/SPORTSCHROME Leadoff man Veras has a .362 on-base percentage and 57 stolen bases in two years with San Diego.


By the Numbers

1998 Team Statistics (NL rank)
1998 record: 98-64 (first in NL West)

HOME RUNS 167 (5)
OPP. BATTING AVG. .252 (3)
ERA 3.63 (3)
FIELDING PCT. .983 (7)

Savings Account

Trevor Hoffman was the only pitcher to earn a save in more than
two thirds of his relief appearances in 1998; the next-highest
percentage (.667) belonged to the Rangers' John Wetteland (42
saves in 63 appearances) and the Yankees' Mariano Rivera (36
saves in 54 appearances). In fact, Lee Smith is the only pitcher
in major league history (minimum 20 saves) to achieve saves in a
greater percentage of his relief appearances in a single season
than Hoffman did last year.

Year Closer, Team Saves App. Pct.

1994 Lee Smith, Orioles 33 41 .805
1998 Trevor Hoffman, Padres 53 66 .803
1993 Bryan Harvey, Marlins 45 59 .763
1990 Dennis Eckersley, Athletics 48 63 .762
1988 Dennis Eckersley, Athletics 45 60 .750

Year Closer, Team Saves App. Pct.

1995 Jose Mesa, Indians 46 62 .742
1990 Bobby Thigpen, White Sox 57 77 .740
1992 Dennis Eckersley, Athletics 51 69 .739
1997 Randy Myers, Orioles 45 61 .738
1993 Lee Smith, Cardinals-Yankees 46 63 .730

Next Up...

Rookie righthander Matt Clement has already been paid the
ultimate compliment: After he went 2-0 with 13 strikeouts in 13
innings in his first stint in the majors last September, scouts
were comparing the sinking movement of the 24-year-old's
fastball to that of San Diego ace Kevin Brown. Even Brown
himself said of the 1993 third-round draft pick, "He has the
makings." Clement, a Pittsburgh native who wears an iron city
beer T-shirt under his jersey for good luck, was the
organization's minor league pitcher of the year in '97 and, with
the off-season departure of Brown and righthander Joey Hamilton,
could start the season as high as third in the Padres' rotation.

Projected Roster With 1998 Statistics

Manager: Bruce Bochy (fifth season with San Diego)


2B Quilvio Veras S-R 161 .267 6 45 24
LF Reggie Sanders[1] R 150 .268 14 59 20
RF Tony Gwynn L 46 .321 16 69 3
1B Wally Joyner L 121 .298 12 80 1
3B George Arias* R 217 .308 36 119 0
CF Ruben Rivera R 166 .209 6 29 5
C Greg Myers L-R 269 .246 4 20 0
SS Chris Gomez R 261 .267 4 39 1


C Jim Leyritz R 231 .276 12 42 0
IF Damian Jackson (R)*[1] R 291 .261 6 49 25
IF Dave Magadan[1] L-R 312 .321 1 13 0
OF John Vander Wal L 316 .279 5 20 0
IF Andy Sheets R 324 .242 7 29 7


RH Andy Ashby 37 17 9 6.9 1.24 3.34
LH Sterling Hitchcock 101 9 7 6.2 1.23 3.93
RH Woody Williams[1] 127 10 9 6.6 1.32 4.46
RH Stan Spencer (R)* 154 12 6 6.2 1.18 3.93
RH Matt Clement (R)* 211 10 9 6.4 1.41 3.98


RH Trevor Hoffman 18 4 2 53 0.85 1.48
RH Dan Miceli 146 10 5 2 1.25 3.22
LH Randy Myers[**] 196 4 7 28 1.50 4.92
RH Brian Boehringer 266 5 2 0 1.57 4.36
RH Carlos Reyes[1][**] 295 3 3 1 1.18 3.55
LH Mark Langston 319 4 6 0 1.82 5.86

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched

PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 154)
*Triple A stats [**]Combined AL and NL stats